Managing bad behaviour in game culture

Posted on June 10, 2014

In recent news, two professional gamers were suspended and dumped from their teams after repeated incidents of toxic, bullying behaviour in the game League of Legends.

LoL Twitter Cover

Settle down tiger. Source:

Wait, hang on – let’s unpack. Yes, ‘professional gaming’ is a thing. There are players who have become so good at some games that they play competitively, in large international tournaments. The prize pools for these competitive gaming leagues are not insignificant, but these players then supplement their income through endorsements, sponsorship and income from streaming through services like Twitch TV and YouTube. So yes, these players make a full-time income from gaming (although it will be a while before they earn like Beckham).

The types of games that attract this kind of activity tend to be fairly heavily competitive multiplayer games like Starcraft II or League of Legends – if you’d like to see the latter in action, you can check out some live streams. These games usually involve competitive activities in teams, and the whole field is sometimes referred to as E-sports, prompting comparisons (and some derision) amongst traditional sports aficionados.

As in all sports, there is a culture of competition and no small degree of trash-talk between teams and players, but this seems to combine with  online anonymity and a developing culture of abusing other players to create a pretty toxic environment. If you’d like more detail on the behaviour of the players (it’s pretty reprehensible) and the response, read the original Kotaku article. This kind of online behaviour is not new, as any female gamer knows, but it’s concerning that it is so public and performed by role models in the gaming community. In short, the publisher of the game stepped in to suspend these players and their teams summarily dumped them.

TL Taylor's comment on LoL suspension

There are a couple of interesting aspects to this development, prompting lots of online commentary. This is one of the first times that a major publisher has publicly stepped in to punish competitive players for their toxic behaviour, and a major development from the ground-up, ‘crowdsourced justice‘ that Riot has worked with so far. This sets a precedent, and sense a message that there are standards for the public image of gaming generally and League of Legends in particular. Of course, this top-down approach might undermine player self-regulation, but a balance is probably required.

Another interesting aspect of this case was one player’s responses to the ban. In short, they took it on the chin – rather sheepish tweets suggested that one of them at least knew his behaviour was out of line, not unlike the severe suspensions handed out to rugby player suspended for brawling. This acknowledges the authority held by publishers and teams, and their right to regulate behaviour for the good of all players, spectators, and the brand itself.

Banned player's tweet

A classy way to respond

This is a good precedent for public gaming generally, and suggests that it is useful to have clear boundaries and consequences for toxic or negative behaviour. When Game Truck Australia delivers a party for kids in Adelaide, it will have clear Rules of the Game written down to ensure that everyone has a good time, and no-one interferes with the enjoyment of other players. Warnings will be singular and consequences will be swift (but not draconian – time out, for example). This aims to build a sense of self-reliance among young gamers and a value for positive gaming experiences within boundaries that can be gradually more self-imposed.

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